Ceatec Microsoft and the future

Ceatec Microsoft and the future

two Japanese girls handing out flyers at the Ceatec show in Japan

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Ceatec microsoft and the future

It was the week when CEATEC, the biggest trade event for the Japanese technology industry, kicked off. A self-driving lorry took to the motorways of Germany. Disney research put augmented reality into a colouring book and Edward Snowden warned that the security services are able to hack our smartphones using Smurfs. Smurfs, of course, being the hacking tools used, and in no way related to the Belgian comic book Smurf characters that went on to widespread fame in a 1980s cartoon that spanned many seasons and 256 excellent episodes.

It was also week that Microsoft showed off a range of new products ready to run with Windows 10 and as expected, we got some new phones, but the big surprise was a laptop. Yes, Microsoft showed off their very own laptop Called the Surface Book, the company hopes it will beat the MacBook at being a Macbook and help to reinvent categories, whatever any of that means.

two different views of the Microsoft SurfaceBook

Exo-Skeletons

Today we are going to a land of magic, where the robots fight back, and the technology has a life of its own. Welcome to Japan, where everything is slightly different.

It is not often you get to see behind the scenes at an airport but Haneda Airport in Tokyo has invited us backstage, to show off its robots. Well exoskeletons , and if your a player of Call of Duty® Advanced Warfare, you will know very well what an exo-skeleton is and how it works. This is the HAL mini-exoskeleton, It works with your body to give you some extra lift, and makes you feel kind of.....well very powerful! It also does wonders for the waistline! The suit is being used as a lumbar support for airport baggage handlers, and was designed to help them lift heavy luggage without doing their backs in. Well it works and does very well, and it functions exactly as you would envisage it would in a sci fi film! The exoskeleton reads the electrical impulses coming from the brain to the muscles in the back. It knows when the wearer wants to move, and it walks and bends with them. And importantly, when they straighten, it gives them a bit of extra power. The reason that Haneda airport, and many companies here, are introducing robots, is to push Japan's hi-tech image to the millions of visitors to the 2020 Olympics.

three men and one female airport worker wearing the HAL exoskeleton

The Ceatec Tokyo Technology Exhibition

At the Panasonic Museum in Osaka, you don't have to look far to be reminded of the country's place in tech history. It invented the VHS. It invented the DVD. Think you're cool with your gold iPod? I've got a gold cassette player. It's got auto-stop and everything! Indeed, Japan still innovates and it is still happy to take risks in areas of tech that the rest of the world might not be.

random items behind a glass cabinet at the panasonic museum

Now, if you want Japanese innovation en masse, you need to go here, the Tokyo technical expo that is CEATEC and it is at this four-day showcase just outside Tokyo where we are ready to seek out the best in show.

The reason we love coming to CEATEC is it is chock-full of concept tech. Big companies just trying things out to see what happens. Some ideas will eventually make it to market, and all are tinged with a uniquely Japanese flavour. Like this, the undoubted star of CEATEC, this little fellow. Meet RoboHon, the minute mechanoid with an ear for voice commands. He can dance better than some humans. He can take your picture and he can even project that picture onto the table, with his built-in projector. Essentially, RoboHon is a smartphone in a robot body, with moving arms and legs. Sharp thinks this robot phone will sell, and plans to release it in Japan next year. You can see a live demo of RoboHon in the video above.

robohon in my hand

Microsoft's Kinect Can Now Track Our Fingers

Researchers may be on the verge of tracking everything we do with millimetre accuracy. Microsoft's Kinect system, which brought gesture control to the home, has now been programmed to track each of our fingers in 3-D space. Something that has taken them quite a while to get right.

One of the developers said "We thought we would use exactly the same approach and take them and apply them to our hands, and everything would be hunky dory and work. Hands are actually quite considerably harder to get right. They are smaller, so the camera sees fewer pixels and each pixel has an amount of noise on it. Second of all, the hand can move pretty much completely freely in 3-D space, unlike we would usually do with our full body. We would usually stand and rotate on two axes, hands rotate on three axes. You can see the surface of the model that we are using, with a much more detailed understanding than anyone has had before of what the human hand is doing. Clearly, when you are using virtual reality, if you stick your hands forward and you don't see them, that feels weird, so we want to be able to portray an avatar of your hands. Second, we want to interact with the virtual world just as we interact with the physical world, to reach out and grab something and manipulate it, and we should be able to do exactly the same in the virtual world. You can imagine things like virtual pianos where you play musical instruments, pianos, guitars, whatever".

Hey but what about being able to feel what you are supposedly touching?

three men with their hands in the air using microsoft kinect finger tracking

Tokyo University VR Tactile Experience

What if you wanted to touch something that is actually completely imaginary? Here at Tokyo University we are having an unusual tactile experience. My hands are being fooled into feeling something that is not really there! Down here is a special picture, a special marker. When the computer sees that marker, it inserts a virtual ball on top, which is here. Here is the clever bit, we can grab that ball even though it is not really there, and it will feel like I'm grabbing it. The computer is modifying the image of my hand to keep my fingers slightly open around the ball. It feels like we am grabbing the ball even though we am actually grabbing my fingers.. it really does fool the mind and works. The theory behind this is that sight is a dominant sense over touch, so if your eyes tell you you are doing something, even if it doesn't quite marry up with what your fingers are doing, the eyes will win and your brain will think that is what your hands are doing. Some pretty clever software erases my hand, replaces it with the background, then adds in a distorted image of my hand.

two separate views of a man squeezing a virtual reality ball at ceatec

Laundroid Laundry Folding Robot

How about this, a robot that folds your laundry? Apparently we can save 375 days over a lifetime by not having to fold laundry ourselves (OVER A YEAR!!) I don't know about you guys but I don't spend that much time folding anything! So what makes this so great? Laundroid can recognise the shape of any garment and fold it, and i mean fold it slowly.. This casing or cupboard hides the top-secret wizardry inside. The company says the clever bit is using image analysis to recognise whether you have shoved in a sock or a shirt. Then, once Laundroid knows what it is dealing with, it can concentrate on the gentle art of folding. Whatever it is doing, it is very quiet. I asked if we can we see inside? and was told sternly "No. It took us ten years to develop this prototype technology, and there are so many secrets in there" Are you sure it is not just someone in there doing it? "Of course not!" I bet it is a little Wizard of Oz, but however they are doing it the main problem they need to solve is it currently takes four minutes per item. There we go! Now for the rest of the laundry... err... article

two separate views of a woman demonstrating laundroid at ceatec

A Mobile Phone That Can Smell

And Finally we found a mobile phone that can actually sniff and smell. One company wants to put these "sniffing sensors" in in every phone so it can constantly monitor the air around it. It is monitoring odours, particularly acetone, oil, alcohol and water, and that is represented in these lines here on the picture below. You can tell when we blow in it, The lines do two different things. It tells it the nature of my breath. This could possibly give me an early warning to various illnesses, such as diabetes. It can also detect the air around, it can even tell what is cooking but it can also tell if there is a gas leak. It could also detect what kind of wine you could be drinking, which could be useful if we want to match it to food. Hmmm well its kind of interesting ish...

holding a mobile phone that can smell next to a graph at ceatec

Well on that last note we say goodbye to CEATEC and Japan.. oh well back to the normal job of coding websites!!

Article Written By Numus Software : October 17th, 2015.